In Memoriam: Poetry for the Fallen

March 23, 2020 Updated: March 23, 2020

The written word can be a powerful force, especially when we find ourselves in times of grief. Whether it’s a piece of poetry, an excerpt from a novel, or a philosophical piece, art can be profoundly impactful.

Rob Longley, an information technology manager, has been writing poetry for the last 35 years. He wrote his first poem during his freshman year in college. His first piece was for a young woman whose mother had passed away after a battle with cancer when she was in high school. Through the process of writing the poem, he learned a lot about her story that he didn’t know about before.

His creative process is quite unique.

“I actually hear them, and just start writing them down. Apparently it’s not an uncommon practice. Brahms is noted for hearing his music before he actually wrote it down,” Longley explained.

Gold Star Families

Longley writes his poetry in the quatrain format that Nostradamus used, and many of his poems are about people looking for direction or people who are going through a difficult time in life. Longley himself was in the United States Air Force, and has written poems for fallen soldiers and their families.

Several years ago, one of the organizers of the Gold Star Family Weekend reached out to Longley and asked if they could use one of his poems in their program guide. Instead, he offered to write individual poems for each soldier and their family. He received a bafflingly long document of names, and four months later he had written a poem for each family.

For Longley the writing isn’t about him. It’s about the families.

Rob Longley writes poetry for soldiers, police officers, and firefighters who have been killed in the line of duty. (Courtesy of Rob Longley)

“I honestly believe that it’s not so much the words themselves, but it’s what you think about when you read the poems that is what’s really important,” Longley explained.

Longley rarely meets the Gold Star families, and he typically looks up obituaries to get a sense of who the fallen soldier was.

“I think we’re all connected, and it’s not like I talk to them. I simply get a sense of who they are or who they were, and what words need to frame them,” Longley said.

“I’d like to think that I’m able to give the families one more memory or moment where they can connect with their loved one.”

Poetry for the Fallen

Longley tries to share the stories and carry on the dreams of the fallen he writes about, and aims to celebrate their lives and memories.

Longley’s work has been adapted and used in a variety of fashions. In western New York, a recipient of his poems sent him a photo of the poem Longley had written for his son, inscribed on a plaque at the base of an American flag. The American Widows Project used one of his poems for their donor packet, and Army Outreach included one entitled “Under the Flag” in a package for children whose parent has been killed in action.

Rob Longley strives to capture the spirit and dreams of the people he writes about. (Courtesy of Rob Longley)

Longley also writes poetry for police officers and firefighters. His daughter is a police officer, and he has written poems for promotions, retirements, and officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

One poem that has stuck with him among all the pieces he has written is entitled “The Road to Life.” The poem was written for a little boy in the Midwest who was born three days after his father was killed in action in Iraq. The poem is presented as a dialogue between the two.

The Road Of Life

You may not remember me
I met you on the road
You were in a hurry
And I held a heavy load

What’s that thing? you asked me
It’s a tool to keep you free
So someday we can live in peace
And you can grow up just like me

Where is it you’re going? I’m headed for that light
A pretty lady waits there and she’ll watch you day and night
Wouldn’t you like to join me?   It sounds like lots of fun
No I’m here to see you off before my time is done

Nice to have met you
The pleasure was all mine
I’m afraid that I didn’t get your name
Actually you did! But Dad will do just fine